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Senate candidate proposes Medicare for all ages

Like his Republican opponents, Democratic Senate candidate Rick Weiland of South Dakota thinks President Obama's healthcare law is flawed.

But unlike the Republican candidates, who want to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Weiland thinks voters will support keeping the law if people of all ages have the option of signing up for Medicare.

Weiland has proposed that citizens of any age be allowed to buy into Medicare, which now is generally open only to people 65 and older, as an alternative to private health insurance plans.

"People understand Medicare," Weiland told The Argus Leader. "It works, it's efficient, and all this other stuff that they're having now to focus on is extremely complicated, and they don't understand it."

Brook Hougesen, a press secretary for the national Republican Senatorial Committee, said a majority of South Dakotans disapprove of President Obama, so they likely don't support his healthcare law. But Hougesen said Weiland's Medicare option would kick people off private insurance.

Weiland said his plan would not force anyone to do anything but instead would give people a better deal on insurance.

"It would force the private insurance market to compete," Weiland said. "The reason people are so upset with having to buy healthcare right now is because they can't afford it. The reason they can't afford it is there's no competition."

Jon Schaff, a political science professor at Northern State University in Aberdeen, told the newspaper that South Dakota voters probably would not see a Medicare option as a good idea.

The option of getting government more involved in healthcare is not going to be popular, Schaff said.

Weiland said Medicare is popular among many critics of the government and of the federal healthcare law.

Schaff said Weiland's stance reflects the Democrat's position as a populist progressive who does not believe in moderating his views to try to appeal to conservative voters.

"I guess he's making a calculation that if he simply runs true to what he believes that people will respect him for that, and he can gain some votes," Schaff said.

Weiland is the only announced Democrat running for the seat now held by Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, who has said he is not seeking re-election next year.

Four Republicans are seeking their party's nomination for the seat. The GOP candidates are former Gov. Mike Rounds, state Sen. Larry Rhoden of Union Center, state Rep. Stace Nelson of Fulton and Sioux Falls physician Annette Bosworth.

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